Jamie Patterson is a busy filmmaker. His new drag queen drama Tucked hits UK cinemas next week, following its UK premiere at BFI Flare in March. And he has another three films lined up for release: the inter-railing comedy Tracks comes out later this year, the LGBTQ drama Justine is in post-production, and God’s Petting You is a just-wrapped True Romance-style romp. This summer he’ll start shooting yet another film, a psychological thriller. Clearly he’s a filmmaker who likes to blur genre lines, and Tucked is no exception: its central character is a straight man who performs as a drag artist, is dying of cancer and his only friend is a gender-queer gay artist. But it’s also a funny, hopeful bromance. Jack Cline spoke to him exclusively for Boyz.
Where did you get the idea for this story?
It was a good few years ago, maybe six, I was out with a friend and we decided to go to this great little pub in Kemp Town. There was this amazing drag queen hosting, she must have been nearly 60. Her act consisted of singing songs and making dirty jokes, an act you don’t really see as much anymore. Anyway it was about four in the morning, I’d danced around like a prat singing Maggie May and it got to the last song of the night. She sang I Dreamed a Dream from Les Mis, and I remember crying. It could have been the 27 vodka cranberries I’d had, but I was really moved by her performance. Halfway through the song she took off her wig to reveal a beautiful bald head. By this point we’re all crying! I say all, there were about six of us. As we were leaving I saw her pack up her stuff, still dressed like a movie star, and I wondered where she was going next. That’s where the opening to the film came from.
The story avoids the usual cliches about drag artists – for example, by making the lead character straight.
For me there was no right or wrong way of doing things. I didn’t overthink it. That’s probably quite naive of me, however I think it’s good to be a bit naive when it comes to filmmaking. I think that’s where the truth is found, and I’m entirely aware of how wanky that sounds. Jackie (played by veteran actor Derren Nesbitt) enjoys dressing up as a woman. It’s who he is. I think we all have fantasies or desires, things that we want or need to do. For me just because a guy likes to wear dresses and make-up, it doesn’t mean he’s gay. This is a film about human beings, and everyone is different. My key point to get across with the film was that that’s okay.
How did you find Derren, and how did he approach such a complex character, internalised in private and in-your-face on stage?
I’ve known Derren for years; he did a small part in a Christmas movie I did called Home for Christmas (2014). He’s an incredible actor and has worked with some of the greats: Sinatra, Burton, Eastwood. You know they’re great because you only need to say their surname! When I saw that drag queen in that pub, for some reason I thought of Derren. While making Home for Christmas, I said to Derren, “I’ve got this idea for a movie where you play a drag queen.” He said, “I’ll do it!” A few years later, he came out of retirement to do the film. He actually did a lot of research for Jackie, including writing a lot of his own jokes, some so dirty they didn’t make the final cut. Derren is one of the most prepared actors I’ve ever worked with. He also never complains, not even when he’s wearing nine-inch stilettos.
Opposite him, the young, black performer Jordan Stephens is a terrific contrast as Faith.
Jordan actually came to the project quite late on. By quite late, I mean like the week before filming. We were looking for someone who had that screen presence Faith needed. I remember watching him in Glue at about two in the morning and thinking, this guy is fucking great! At that point I didn’t really know him as an actor, just a musician. He’d just done Rogue One, but believe it or not I’m not really a Star Wars fan. I think his biggest challenge on Tucked was probably the limited prep time he had for the character. That being said, I think that was also a bit of a blessing in disguise. He went with his instincts for the character, and for me that adds an extra level of realism to it.
Did the actors surprise you on the set?
I think once I cast a character it becomes theirs to do with what they want. I’m not a director who likes to give lots of notes after each take. I think if you’ve cast the film properly, you shouldn’t have to do that. I see my job as creating a safe and fun environment for my cast and crew to do their best work. I don’t like to rehearse either, I want it to be as natural as possible. For those reasons I guess the first take is always a bit of a surprise, never in a bad way though. Well sometimes, but not on this film!
Were there scenes that were particularly difficult to shoot?
We shot the movie in like 10 days, so I guess the whole thing was pretty difficult. And we shot everything on location, some of which were a little snug to say the least. I love shooting on location, because it just makes everything more real for me. I loved every second of this shoot, and that’s mainly down to having the most incredible cast and crew in the world. The days are long, but we get to make movies for a living! I never take that for granted.
What about moments that were particularly memorable?
I think the image of Jordan trying to take off Derren’s white stiletto boots will be one that sticks with me for the rest of my life. Also the scene where they both do drugs and dance. That was amazing, to just let them go for it. We didn’t choreograph anything and it was just wonderful to watch. But the most fun scene to shoot for me was probably the scene with Steve Oram (as a drug dealer confused by Jackie and Faith’s blurred genders). I remember loving that scene when I wrote it, and Steve is just perfect in it.
How have audiences reacted to the film?
It’s been incredible. We premiered at Outfest last year. Before then only four people had seen the film. We got a standing ovation and won two awards, including the Audience Award. I think the film has real charm, something I think is missing from a lot of films, something that gets lost for one reason or another. But when you have it, it connects with an audience. I always wanted this to be an uplifting film, even though it deals with lots of difficult subject matters. I wanted people to take hope from it and leave the cinema with a smile on their face.
Tucked: Review by Jack Cline
With an irresistibly engaging tone, this offbeat British drama refuses to take the expected route through the material. It’s funny, warm, darkly moving and full of life, layering each jagged joke with earthy emotions. The story centres on 74-year-old Jackie (Derren Nesbitt), a star drag queen whose act is packed with filthy gay punchlines. Estranged from his family, he also has no friends to help him deal with an aggressive form of cancer. Then the 21-year-old drag artist Faith (Jordan Stephens) arrives at the club, and Jackie reluctantly takes him under his wing. As they become friends, they begin to rub off on each other in ways neither of them saw coming.
The hitch here is that Jackie isn’t gay, and Faith is resolutely queer, refusing to be identified by gender. And as outsiders without a support system, they have a lot more in common than the half-century age gap between them might suggest. Thankfully, Patterson lets their friendship evolve organically, never pushing it at all. And he also adds some terrific set-pieces along the way, including an encounter with the superb Steve Oram as a hilariously annoyed drug dealer.
The film’s improvisational pacing brings out strong chemistry between Nesbitt and Stephens. So Jackie and Faith are consistent from the quieter serious moments right through the colourful on-stage drag performances. This mix of raucous comedy, silly antics and darker emotion is so finely balanced that the story is able to maintain its hopefulness right to the end, without ever getting maudlin. It’s a powerfully engaging reminder that we should expand our family, not limit it. JC
Tucked opens in cinemas on May 17th.